How can you make yourself happy?

How Can You Make Yourself Happy?

Having long been interested in life in the Scandinavian countries, who consistently rate highly in global happiness tables, I was keen to read The Little Book of Lykke: The World’s search for the world’s happiest people by Meik Wiking when I spotted it on a supermarket shelf recently.

Wiking is also the author of The Little Book of Hygge which I had previously enjoyed very much, so I expected to enjoy this one, too.

Experiences versus things?

One of the most salient points that Wiking makes is that buying experiences, rather than things, results in a greater sense of happiness. He quotes a study carried out by Dunn and Norton, who found that ‘study after study [shows that] people are in a better mood when they reflect on their experiential purchases which they describe as “money well spent”‘.

When people are asked to review how happy a purchase made them (such as a mobile phone) compared to spending money on a holiday or concert ticket, far more people will claim that the experience made them happier than the tangible item.

Spending money on experiences will make you happier still if those experiences involve spending time with other people and make you build a closer bond to them, and if they are linked with who you see yourself as being. For example, if you are a history buff you would gain greater happiness from visiting historical sites such as Pompeii if you were on holiday in Italy. Therefore investing in experiences in this way can be perceived as an investment in happy memories and in your personal story and development.

Preserving your memories

Taking photographs whilst you are enjoying the experiences can help to prolong the sense of pleasure, as you are able to look back and prompt your memory to recall details you may otherwise have forgotten. I often create photobooks of our family holidays and the kids enjoy looking back at these with us. I hope they will enjoy doing this for many years to come, as it evokes a shared sense of history and wellbeing and strengthens the bond between us as a family.

It’s similar when I reminisce with close friends about holidays and other experiences that we shared together in years gone by. We often end up laughing so hard we are almost in tears and our sides ache (in a good way!).

I’m a little wary of taking too many photographs, though. There is a danger that we can become so focused on taking countless pictures and striving for the perfect one that we miss actually being present in the moment and enjoying the experience for what it is. That seems a real shame, especially when you have spent so much money on a special experience in the first place.

Not everything is an item in a tick-list

I will never forget the retired couple who sat in the adjacent seats to my husband and I on the William Tell (now known as the Gotthard Panorama Express) train ride in Switzerland. In case you aren’t aware, this very scenic journey takes you through stunning lake and mountain scenery and the trains have extra large, panoramic windows to afford a better view. It’s not a cheap ride, either. When we boarded the train, the pleasant couple were friendly to us and during conversation mentioned that this train trip had featured high up on their to-do list of things to experience in Switzerland. We heartily agreed with them.

However…about fifteen minutes into the ride, both of them fell sound asleep! Shortly after the train departed, they both sat back from the window, reclined into the comfortable seats and seemed to be anticipating a nap. They didn’t wake up until we reached the final destination and I couldn’t help but think what a waste of money it was for them. Perhaps there is a danger of regarding some experiences as mere items to be ticked off in a list, rather than a special time to be savoured and relished?

Fortunately my husband and I gained maximum enjoyment out of the journey and remained glued to the expansive windows for most of it, taking in every little bit of the incredible alpine view as it unfolded before us.


Another point that Wiking makes is that where possible, it is better to plan ahead for your experiences and even book them well in advance. The key benefit to doing this is the sense of anticipation it brings. I have to say that I am rather the queen of doing just this. I usually plan and book holidays well in advance, usually twelve months ahead. We are going on a cruise in August and I booked it a whopping twenty one months in advance. Admittedly, that felt a little crazy at the time even for me, but I love the fact that it gives us extra time to research which shore excursions to do, chat excitedly to the kids about it (many times!) and feel, well, happy just at the thought of knowing it is definitely booked and looking forward to it so much.

I tend to book tickets for shows and concerts as far ahead as possible, too. There is the added bonus of being more likely to secure the best seats by doing so.

It has crossed my mind on occasions that if we cut right back on spending on holidays, weekend trips, concerts and show tickets, we could afford to move to a larger and more impressive home. Admittedly, we are very fortunate that we live in a home that is sufficiently large enough for our family, although it lacks rooms that others may not wish to go without, such as a utility (laundry) room and an extra bathroom. In some ways, the larger home would bring us pleasure. But I’m not convinced that having the additional rooms would compensate for the loss of life-affirming experiences we would miss out on and Wiking’s book has confirmed that we are making the right decision to stay in our current home.

How about you? Do you agree that spending money on experiences rather than things brings more happiness? Which types of experiences do you most enjoy spending money on? I would love to hear from you.

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Perfect Way to Spend an Afternoon: Taking Afternoon Tea

What is your favourite way to spend an afternoon?

Taking afternoon tea, comprising a hot drink served alongside a multi-tiered cake stand full of delicious treats, is a quintessentially English thing to do. Yet although there are an abundance of venues that offer afternoon tea, I have only visited them to partake in it a handful or so times. This really should change, because it is probably one of my ideal ways to pass an afternoon.

It feels a delightfully indulgent thing to do. As formal afternoon tea involves the aforementioned multi-tiered cake stand filled with finger sandwiches, scones (to be served with jam and clotted cream) and cakes or other sweet delicacies, you really need to have a light lunch beforehand or skip it altogether.

I had recently booked one at a local period house hotel as a postponed birthday treat for my mother. Typically, the day before we were due to go saw a heavy snowfall hit our region of the UK (something which is pretty rare), which continued for the next few days. We decided to go ahead anyway, having checked that the roads were meant to be clear and indeed, they were.

Seckford Hall is a beautiful country house hotel full of olde-worlde charm and period details. On arrival, we were shown to the dining room and had our pick of tables. Naturally, we plumped for a window table that framed the winter wonderland snow scene covering the landscaped grounds of the hotel. Soon after we were seated, a blizzard commenced which was beautiful to watch from our warm and cosy position.

snow seckford

The table was beautifully set with starched white linens and matching napkins. A little reminiscent of the dining table when I lived in Italy, in fact.

Those who know me well know that I have never been a tea-drinker. I simply can’t abide the smell of it, never mind the taste. I can vividly recall a day when I was at primary school, aged perhaps eight, and the class teacher decided we would have a day for tasting different types of tea. I’m not completely sure what topic this actually related to… On the day, I tried in vain to tell the teacher that I really didn’t like tea but she was adamant that couldn’t be true and insisted that I taste a sip of every different type. There were about ten types… Let’s just say that the experience did little to turn me into a tea convert!

Well, in the last year or so, I have been making an effort to try a few different teas, especially ones with added flavours. I still can’t say that I love it, but I can now drink green tea with cherry or coconut extracts. At Seckford Hall, I opted for green tea with infused with cherry. My mother chose Earl Grey.

We weren’t disappointed when the waiter placed the cake stand on the table. There were both plain and fruit scones, which was perfect because I prefer plain. Whether jam or cream gets spread first is a subject that provokes hearty debate, but I personally prefer jam followed by cream. We couldn’t resist eating a scone first.

Afternoon tea at Seckford Hall cake stand

Next we moved on to the sandwiches. There were cucumber and cream cheese fingers, homemade sausage rolls and smoked salmon and cream cheese mini wraps with a sprinkling of caviar on top.

I imagine most people would agree that the very best part of an afternoon tea is the cakes. Today they certainly didn’t disappoint. There were mini carrot cake slices, battenburg slices and mini chocolate cakes (the latter were decadently rich).

When I asked a staff member where the toilets were, I was directed to a door labelled the ‘Ladies Powder Room’. How quaint is that? To reach it I had to climb up a rather grand old staircase that also led to the the guest bedrooms for people lucky enough to spend a night at the hotel.

On the upstairs landing I paused to look out of the window and survey the beautiful scene. A large pond on the hotel grounds had iced over and snow continued to fall, making it look almost magical. I wished I had taken my phone with me to take a sneaky picture!

All in all it was a lovely afternoon. It’s rare that I spend time with my mother without the children being there and, adorable as they are, they demand constant attention. We enjoyed conversation about all sorts of things and really enjoyed the experience. The older I get, the more I identify with my mother and see her for the incredible person that she is. I genuinely enjoy spending time with her and can only hope that my children will feel a similar way about wanting to spend time with me when they are older, too.

I am determined not to leave it too long before we go again. Perhaps to Seckford Hall again in the summer, to enjoy the landscaped grounds without a snowy white covering. I have already resolved to make the most of my local area and all that it has to offer.

How about you? Do you often go for afternoon tea? Who you you go with? And, dare I ask, do you add the jam or cream to your scone first?


How to feel gratitude by pondering the lives of others

Finding a Sense of Gratitude by Pondering the Lives of Others

Curiosity about the lives of others

Due to my natural sense of curiosity about other people and the way they live, I often muse about who might live in the homes that I pass each day while walking my daughter to and from school. I pass varied types of dwelling, from the small, compact prefabs (hurriedly built just after WW2 in the 1940s that were only intended to provide temporary accommodation to the thousands of people displaced during the war years yet are still standing strong) to larger family homes.

I often pass more mature and elderly people tending to their gardens, many of whom seem keen to exchange a smile, sometimes a few words and they often like to coo over the baby. I sometimes wonder whether they live alone, perhaps they always have done or are widowed after decades of living happily with their soul mate? Perhaps they have grown-up children that they see regularly, or who have spread their wings far and emigrated abroad? I ponder over what they did to earn a living when they were younger. Of course I don’t know these people well enough to ask the questions, but I can’t help but wonder just the same.

Life wasn’t always this easy…

Social history has always fascinated me, particularly from WW1 onwards. I enjoy reading novels set in 1930s and 1940s England, mostly ones featuring ordinary life for working class or middle class families. When I’m finding things particularly challenging whilst caring for my three (albeit mostly delightful) children aged five and under, it sometimes helps to think how much tougher it must have been for women a few generations ago, without the conveniences we now take for granted. I can scarcely imagine daily life without a dishwasher, washing machine, microwave and all the other appliances which help make daily life run smoothly and efficiently.

VE Day Celebrations at the end of WW2- on my very own street!

A couple of years ago, I was fascinated to stumble across an article in our local newspaper about VE Day celebrations in our town of Ipswich. Our road was mentioned by name and there was a small black and white photo (see below) of a street party taking place on our road, from the looks of it right outside our house! The celebratory food on the tables is pretty humble fare, mostly sandwiches and simple cakes such as jam tarts, due to the fact that food was scarce and rationing still in force in the UK at that point. Somehow, though, I suspect that the sense of overwhelming relief and joy these ordinary people had that war was over more than made up for the basic food spread.


Naturally, seeing that photo sent my mind into overdrive, trying to imagine who was living in our house during the war, imagining them having to dash out to an air raid shelter in the back garden in the middle of the night perhaps? Wondering where their nearest small grocery shop would have been, where they would have walked daily to shop for simple foods to be eaten the same day due to the absence of a fridge, let alone a freezer. Picturing them anxiously picking up letters from the same spot as our own doormat currently is, to see if they contained news about a loved one fighting overseas in the armed forces during WW2.

Although our home has been extended (it is a chalet bungalow extended both to the rear and with a bedroom and bathroom added into the loft space), it was originally a modest 2 bedroom detached bungalow. These days, bungalows are particularly popular with elderly people, but back in 1938 when our home was built, it was common for large families to squeeze into small homes so there could easily have been a family living here.

An increased sense appreciation for what I have

Taking a little time to think about the lives of others, especially those who face more obvious hardship, somehow makes me feel better about my own situation. This sounds a little mean and selfish, I know, but it isn’t as if I wished the hardship on anyone else and I use it to remind myself to stop getting dragged down by what are relatively insignificant things. When I find myself inwardly groaning at the prospect at loading the washing machine with yet another load of clothes, I can remind myself that at least we are privileged enough to own a washing machine and don’t have to wash all of our clothes by hand as our great-grandparents would have. Also, being a bit of an introvert who craves a bit of personal space, I am very glad indeed that I don’t have to live in a tiny home with 8 or more children (even, gasp, without an inside toilet) as was pretty standard a few generations ago.

So really, I end up with a deep sense of gratitude for all that I have and appreciation for everything present in my life that makes it easier. There’s a lot to be said for wanting and appreciating the life that we already have, rather than focusing on everything that we don’t have and desire.

Do you also have this sense of curiosity about other people and how they live? Perhaps a more apt name for it is plain and simple ‘nosiness’! I prefer to see it as taking a healthy interest in the world around me though 😉